Shots in the night.
No, not the usual kind, the ones that come from a .38. I’m talkin’ the other kind: straight shots of J.D.
There I sat, in the best place in the city to wet your beak. My usual stool was the last one, at the far end of the stick. Bill, the ‘tender, stood nearby, leaning over a copy of the local paper, working at his favorite pastime: crossword puzzles.
“A nine letter pulp mystery writer,” he said. “Last four are K-A-N-E,” he added in that gruff voice I’ve come to know quite well as I work hard to keep him in business.
I emptied my glass. “Henry Kane,” I said with satisfaction. “One of the best pulp mystery writers to ever walk this misbegotten world.”
Bill grabbed the bottle of J.D. off the back shelf. Poured me another. “Yeah?” he said as he put my new friend down near my left hand.
“Yeah. He created detective Peter Chambers. A top-flight private dick if there ever was one. Kane started out writing for the legendary Manhunt. Went from there. Died sometime back in the 80’s. Man, I could give you a list of titles to read longer than this stick, but I’ll only have to give you these: Martinis and Murder, The Case of the Murdered Madame, and My Business is Murder.”
A crooked smile played across Bill’s face. “Nice titles.”
“Ol’ Hank at his best,” I said as I threw back the J.D. “Peter Chambers was the prototypical gumshoe: Hard as nails. Hip and urbane. A sword of justice in a crooked world. Would go to the mat to protect the innocent.”
“Well,” Bill said, retrieving the quickly emptying bottle of Jack. “Sounds like a real man’s man, or whatever the hell my first wife said I never was.” Poured me another.
“Sure,” I replied, “and Henry Kane did it with panache, too. His dialog is whip-smart. Rapid fire. Gives the story a speed you don’t see anymore, and that’s a shame, man.” I threw back the shot. Seemed the temperature in the bar increased as the liquor hit. “Here, hand me your quill and a bar nap.” He did this, and I wrote down a web address for him. “This leads to an article by a legendary crime writer named Lawrence Block.” I wrote down Mulholland Books' address on the napkin and handed it back to him. “Block recounts some fun stories about Henry. A great article, man. Henry Kane musta been a real character. No writer wrote better against a hangover, from the sound of it. Give it a shot.”
Bill looked at the address. Nodded. “I will. Thanks, buddy.”
“Oh, and don’t forget to check out his other great detective. An ex-cop named McGregor. Written later on in Kane’s career. Different from Chambers. Liked to use his head more than his hands, if you get me. You would do yourself a disservice if you didn’t read The Midnight Man.
Bill nodded again as he went back to his crossword, like I was already forgotten. I sat there for awhile, ready to get back upstairs to my place. Finally hopped off the stool, wondering why the floor seemed unsure of its being a flat surface, when Bill yelled at me, “Hey, wise guy.”
“You’re wrong. It’s not Henry Kane. Henry won’t fit, Mr.-Know-It-All.”
I shrugged. “Then it’s Frank Kane. The other Kane. No relation.”
A sigh escaped Bill’s lips. “Another pulp writer?”
“That’s correct, sir,” I said as I sat back down. Held up my index finger. Bill knew the sign, brought me another shot of J.D. “Frank Kane, creator of the phenomenally successful private shamus, Johnny Liddell. Liddell was all fists and guns. Way more primal a force than Chambers. I love Liddell’s cases. Have a ton of them upstairs in The Hotel Hovel. I’m reading Trigger Mortis, right now, and I can tell you it’s already one of my favorites. Liddell doesn’t take any guff off anyone, and if you’re gonna put him out of the game, you better do it for good because this guy will keep coming back at you until you’re finished.”
“Trigger Mortis,” Bill laughed under his voice. “Nice.”
“Oh man, the titles are as good as the stories!” I downed the shot. Coughed as the firewater scorched my pipes. “Slay Ride, Poisons Unknown, Time to Prey, Due or Die, Johnny Come Lately. I could do this all day,” I laughed. “And the covers are works of art unto themselves. The later ones were done by this guy called Ronnie Lesser. Awesome. Beyond words. Always some scantily clad dame with great gams on the cover somewhere. Love me some Johnny Liddell!”
“The books that good, kid?”
I put my hand to my heart. “I swear on the graves of my unknown children, I tell the truth. I’ve modeled my entire life on Johnny Liddell.”
“Yeah, really. Johnny was the sort that figured either the bad guy was going to go to the hospital, or the both of them were going to go, but no damn way was Johnny going to go by himself.” I paid for my last shot, slid off the stool. “Like I said, Trigger Mortis, the one I’m reading now, is a great way to get into the Liddell world. Follow that up with Dead Rite, and you can’t go wrong.”
Bill put the name F-R-A-N-K into his crossword. Smiled. “Done! Nice work, kid. Thanks!”
Robert Lewis grew up under the pier at Venice Beach, CA. There, by firelight, he would entertain the stray dogs with weird and wonderful tales. He’s still telling stories, but now he lives in a place with walls, a roof, and cases of red wine. Crime fiction and blues guitar are his things. He blogs over at NeedleCity, and twits sporadically and nonsensically as @robertklewis.